Alvarez, Zerrina: Utilization of RFID – Legal Enforcement viz Privacy Matters


INTRODUCTION

Technology is happening beyond our pace. Models of cellular phones and laptops are fast changing: one after the other, the new ones offering more features, both in aesthetics and functionality. Walkmans are out. Ipods are in. It has already become part of people’s lives: a source of convenience cloaked with necessity. People with laptops are just a natural sight in almost all establishments offering WIFI. Children could no longer be found on streets playing outdoor games but are now busy playing with their PSPs or even WIIs. One could no longer imagine walking across the roads without cellular phones. Research works are mostly done online than in the library. No matter how fast these changes are happening, people have no choice but to double time just to be on track.

Technology has already penetrated various fields in the world. Communication is operated by telephony, networking and information systems. In medicine, most of the operations or treatments, either for cure or prevention of a disease, are possible due to advancement of technology. In agriculture, cross-breeding is already a practice for the production of best crops. In the arts, there’s digital production for movies and digital recording for music. In the Philippines, election process in 2010 will already be automated. Now, transportation system opened its doors to RFID or radio frequency identification technology.

In the advent of RFID in our transportation system, a lot of issues emerged. One of the issues is the imposition of extra burden to motorists for the registration fees, especially to operators of public utility vehicles. The registration fee will increase to Php 350. With the present economic crisis that we have, a sudden increase in the registration fees would really be taken as a burden. There is also an issue with regards to the partnership of Land Transportation Office with Stradcom, the entity who will assist in the RFID project, as it did not undergo the mandatory bidding process. Yet, the primary concern of the people is the possible violation of the right to privacy of individuals since the technology will allow the authorities to identify all information about a certain vehicle.

Although issues may arise regarding the peril that it may bring to the society, technology is a reality that we could not deny existence. It is a product of the continuous growing needs of the people. It is created by the people. Therefore, the extent to which it will be applied will still be determined by the people.

WHAT IS RFID?

Radio frequency identification (RFID) is a generic term that is used to describe a system that transmits the identity (in the form of a unique serial number) of an object or person wirelessly, using radio waves. It’s grouped under the broad category of automatic identification technologies.

There are three major components in the RFID system: the tag antenna (microchip), reader antenna, and the computer software. Both the tag and the reader antenna are composed of coiled antennas creating magnetic field between them. The reader antenna emits radio waves to activate the tag antenna. When the tag antenna passes through the range reached by these radio waves, it reflects back the signal and sends the data or information stored in it. The data or information received will be decoded by the reader antenna. The decoded data is then passed to the computer system for processing.

The mechanism used in RFID is very much similar to a bar code which is most commonly used here in the Philippines in supermarkets, shops and convenience stores. Bar code is “a machine-readable coding system consisting of elements with varying widths of vertical black lines and white spaces, patterns of dots, circles, square cells, and images, that when read by a bar code scanner can be converted into information (RFID Raising the Bar CODE).” As opposed to RFID, the use of bar code is limited only to a particular and limited distance.

HISTORY OF RFID

Technology is brought about by people’s needs. Back at the time of World War II, the British armies had difficulty of identifying their own returning aircraft. Thus, a system was developed whereby a “transponder was placed on “Friendlies” so that by giving the appropriate response to an interrogating signal, a “friendly” could be distinguished from a “foe.”

In the 1960’s and 1970’s, RFID tagging was used for security and safety in the usage of nuclear materials. Subsequent researches were made which explored the wide scope and applicability of RFID. One of early experiments done was with dairy cows in order to track their identification and temperature.

The 19th century was a turning point for RFID technology. During this decade, the application of RFID technology to several industries and services were recognized. It was initially used on the railroads to keep track of rolling stock followed by the identification of fleet vehicles, automatic toll collection on highways, access control to secured or monitored areas, and Remote Keyless Entry (RKE). Due to the widespread application of RFID technology, RFID tags were manufactured regularly several by U.S and European companies.

From 1990’s up to present, manufacturers continue to improve the standards for RFID technology which is geared towards a better, effective, reliable and economical RFID tags.

RFID TECHNOLOGY AND THE LAW

RFID technology is a means employed to gather and identify data or information. As such, it has an implication on the rights of an individual to privacy. Could it really be a violation of the right to privacy?

According to an article on “Privacy” of the Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, a person possesses his own self and body, thus, could be considered as his property. Accordingly, privacy could mean a person’s realm apart from others which is free from any intervention or interference by anyone. It is a complete control of oneself and any information related thereto.

Philippine laws uphold and respect the right of its citizens to privacy. It is one of the State policies that the “the maintenance of peace and order, the protection of life, liberty, and property, and promotion of the general welfare are essential for the enjoyment by all the people of the blessings of democracy (Section 5, Article 2, 1987 Philippine Constitution).” In furtherance of this policy, several provisions on privacy are incorporated in the Bill of rights. Section 1, Article III of the 1987 Philippine Constitution states the: “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, nor shall any person be denied the equal protection of the laws. “ Section 3 of the same article provides that “The privacy of communication and correspondence shall be inviolable except upon lawful order of the court, or when public safety or order requires otherwise, as prescribed by law.”

Various actions were taken to implement these State policies and protect human rights. The Philippines was made a signatory to the Universal Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which laid out the rights of an individual, to wit: the right to legal recourse when their rights have been violated, even if the violator was acting in an official capacity; the right to life; the right to liberty and freedom of movement; the right to equality before the law; the right to presumption of innocence until proven guilty; the right to appeal a conviction, the right to be recognized as a person before the law; the right to privacy and protection of that privacy by law; freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; freedom of opinion and expression; and freedom of assembly and association. As a signatory, the Philippines committed itself to strictly uphold the above-cited human rights.

Recently, the Rule on the Writ of Habeas Data [A.M. No. 08-1-16-SC dated 22 January 2008] was adopted which provides remedy to those whose rights to privacy were violated. Pertinent provision is as follows: “SECTION 1. Habeas Data. – The writ of habeas data is a remedy available to any person whose right to privacy in life, liberty or security is violated or threatened by an unlawful act or omission of a public official or employee, or of a private individual or entity engaged in the gathering, collecting or storing of data or information regarding the person, family, home and correspondence of the aggrieved party.” This writ was adopted in order to safeguard the people’s right to personal information especially during this age of Information technology.

Analyzing the foregoing provisions, it would appear that the right to privacy is violated in the advent of RFID technology. First, it gathers personal information from an individual anytime and without the knowledge of the motorist. Second, intervention or interference by the government of one’s personal realm is evident. The Land Transportation Office and other law-enforcement agencies would always be in surveillance since RFID technology was adopted primarily for traffic management, law enforcement, and crime prevention. Yet, the aforementioned purposes are for the benefit of the general public. If these are the reasons for which the RFID technology is adopted, it is therefore a valid exercise of police power. Police power of the State may be described as one that regulates the use of liberty and property of people for the promotion of public welfare. The exercise of police power is justified under the Latin maxim: “Salus populi est suprema lex. Sic utere tuo ut alienum laedas.” which calls for the subordination of individual interest to the interests of the greater number.

Nevertheless, motorists are still clothed with fear that their personal information would be used for a different purpose. It is a fact that RFID technology is not only used in the transportation system but also in several industries and services. Hence, there is still a need for further legislation in order to protect the individual’s data and information from abuse. For one, The Department of Trade and Industry already issued Department Administrative Order No. 8, prescribing guidelines for the protection of personal data in information and communications system in the private sector. Legislators are also now seeking for the passage of Anti-Identity Theft Bill. Senator Manny Villar in his bill defined identity theft as: “a crime committed when an individual with fraud, malice, ill will, intent to malign or with perversion, uses another’s relevant and sensitive personal information to take on that person’s identity. The crime of identity theft covers: a. the misuse of one’s personal identification cards including passports, social security, documents relating to tax matters and employment, credit cards and other dossiers that distinguishes a person from another; b. mail fraud; c. stolen personalities in the internet, chatrooms, text messaging system and other advanced technology gadgets or in the mechanisms or modes of information highway; and d. all other forms that tend to establish new identity to defraud the government or further a crime defined in existing laws (Villar seeks immediate passage of Anti-Identity Theft bill ).” Camarines Norte Representative Liwayway Vinzons- Chato also authored House Bill No. 3828, Data Privacy Act, which “advocates the removal of registration requirements in favor of the accountability principle, calls for the establishment of the National Privacy Commission, and proposes to adopt a co-regulatory approach in implementation (http://www.cict.gov.ph/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=204&Itemid=1).”

Public officials would always be the representatives of the people regardless of period. They are vested with utmost trust and confidence. Hence, in whatever they do, they should do it in consideration of the interest of the general public. Whether RFID technology would be a valid exercise of police power, it is in the hands of our public officials.


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Author licensed this article under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Philippine license

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